Wiedemann’s beer came back from the dead inside a former Saint Bernard funeral home.
The Geo. Wiedemann Brewing Co. trademark was acquired by Jon and Betsy Newberry in 2012 when Jon, a journalist who covered local beer news, became intrigued at the prospect of bringing back the beer that was synonymous with Cincinnati family gatherings.
Jon saw that the Wiedemann brand, which had been operating out of Newport, Ky., had gone into bankruptcy; the last company to own it was Pittsburgh Brewing, who dropped their trademark rights for the brand. The Newport facility closed in 1983.
Jon asked a lawyer what he needed to do to get the Wiedemann trademark and learned he could apply for it, which cost $250. So he did. And he got it.
“He started brewing with Listermann on a contract basis and did small batches. From there it snowballed,” Betsy says. She and Jon are sitting at a table in the sunny front room of the brewery. Jon drinks his Royal Amber Ale while Betsy sips a “half & half” of Royal Amber and Blonde Ale.
“It is Jon’s idea, his vision, but he couldn’t do it alone while working full-time,” she continues. “I started doing things here and there while I had time to help him, but one thing led to another and it’s now full-time. It’s been six years and we’re finally open thanks to a wonderful, wonderful crew helping us get the building renovated.”
The taproom makes great use of the bottom floor of the elegant building, originally the Imwalle Memorial Funeral Home. Vintage Wiedemann signs wash the inner rooms with that comforting barroom glow only attainable from neon luminescence.
Regarding the vintage signs, Jon says they’re easy to come by, but not cheap. “The more publicity our brand gets, the higher the prices go,” he says. “I think there’s people in Newport who still have basements full of this stuff.”
“We’ve had so much interest and support from people around the country, we get calls and emails with stories about growing up with Wiedemann, that their parents and grandparents drank it at family gatherings,” Betsy says. “There are tons of people so loyal to the brand; it brings back good memories. It’s a nostalgic thing.”
The original Wiedemann recipes did not come with the trademark acquisition, meaning the new owners had to come up with their own approach to the iconic beers.
“Royal Amber Ale is the first Wiedemann recipe our brewmaster came up with,” Jon says. “I really wasn’t all that interested in the old recipes because people’s taste in beer has changed so much in the past 15 or 20 years. It’s a whole new ballgame and I didn’t want to just bring back the old Wiedemann.
“It’s completely different, our recipe. The ingredients are much better, I’m not sure how they made it and what they put into it, although I drank plenty of the old stuff, no complaints there. I’d like to think that what we’ve got now is much more authentic to what George Wiedemann would have been making back around 1870.”
Wiedemann’s Bohemian Special Brew, the beer older drinkers associate with the Wiedemann brand, was still in the tanks at the time of our interview, so much of our conversation revolved around the Royal Amber Ale, a smooth beer that drinks sweet thanks to roasted malt, but finishes with a pleasant dryness that makes the beer incredibly crushable.
“The beer people have been demanding we bring back is Royal Amber, they’d say it was the best beer they remember having,” Jon says. “So, we needed to bring it back, but we didn’t have the old recipe for Royal Amber. Also, it was a lager, which takes considerably longer to make than an ale, so I told my brewmaster that we need to come up with a really good Royal Amber recipe. …So I said to come up with a really good, smooth ale recipe that’s really drinkable. He came up with this and knocked it out of the park.”
Wiedemann’s brewmaster is Steve Shaw from Cellar Dweller at Valley Vineyards in Morrow. Approximately 2,000 barrels of beer are planned for production in the first 12 months of operation, including a variety of styles like lager, stout, ale and more. The brewery will self-distribute and a canning line is set to be installed in the former embalming room.
In addition to beer, the taproom boasts a full food menu, offering fried barroom appetizers, hot sandwiches, burgers and basic salads.
Wiedemann Brewing Company is located at 4811 Vine St., Saint Bernard. More info: wiedemannsfinebeer.com.